I went hiking with my kids, and I couldn’t remember where the trail started. But my younger son remembered. And my older son remembered to put the tick collar on the dog. And I found myself going along for the hike, as a sort of passenger on the journey the kids set up for us.

It is so hard to imagine this happening, but kids become teenagers and then there it is — you are following them. Which makes me wonder when did I get in my head that I would have any idea what skills they’d need in their life?

My parents had no idea what skills I would need. And their parents had no idea what skills they would need. So what makes me think I can help my kids? What do I know?

So far what I know for sure is that skills I never dreamed of calling superfluous are, indeed, superfluous.

Taking notes. Kids have flipped classrooms now. The teachers hand out notes and the in-class time is for discussion. Moreover, taking notes doesn’t help with retention or comprehension. Kids are much better off saying the information out loud, or taking practice tests covering the information. I like taking practice tests on Quizlet so much that I do it just for fun when I’m bored.

Writing a paper. I actually only found this out when I started recording conversations with journalists. I give them so much good material, and I think, why don’t I use what I just said? I can use MightyCall to record my conversations, and then turn those conversations into posts. (Especially easy since I’m a terrible listener — there’s so little to edit when I’m the only one talking!) Podcasts are growing faster than text or video. And the only way to find what works is to try stuff.

Starting a company. Startups are passe. Which makes sense because 55% of them were started by Gen X. The lure of Silicon Valley is over, and homeowners and companies are gunning to get out. The only people are staying are those who could not function anywhere else. And for those who want to start a profitable, non-Silicon Valley company, places like CalChamber make it so easy to stay legal that your kids won’t have to give up tons of stock just to get a labor lawyer to take their call.

I am trying hard to remind myself that I have no idea what my kids will need to learn and I should leave them alone. But I always want to give my opinion.

Then I watched a teacher talking to my son when he stumbled on a word.

She said, “What should you do if you see a word you don’t know?

He said, “Look on the Internet.”

She said, “Or a dictionary.”

He laughed. Out loud. And so did many kids in the class. Because what is she even talking about? The dictionary is on the Internet now, but more than that, the Internet is actually a huge dictionary.

The adult who presumes to tell a kid how to learn will be an adult makes kids laugh.

Stop asking me questions about homeschooling that you'd never ask about school.

Schools decide the priorities of non-school time as well. In Newton, MA there is an extra period in the day so the school can require kids to try extracurricular activities that will make the kids more appealing to colleges. In Darlington, WI, there are half-days of school when the football team has a home game so all students can spend the afternoon preparing for the event. In Winnetka, IL kids in jazz band frequently travel during school breaks.

If you send your kid to school, the school board chooses the parenting philosophy for your household. If you homeschool, you decide what the point of childhood is. You decide what the goal of family time is. You decide what your role as a parent is.

These are questions we are not accustomed to answering. For most of history children were small workers – in fields and then in factories. Then children went to school where they learned to be good adult factory workers. We have not given much thought to what is the point of childhood because we have not had so much freedom to decide for ourselves.

No one asks the school board to defend it’s parenting philosophy, but homeschoolers end up doing this all the time. Because if you talk about how you make decisions about education you cannot avoid talking about what you think is important about childhood. I have been swayed by different philosophies at different times:

Childhood Institute: making sure children fulfill their potential
Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi: becoming an expert at something
Martin Seligman: learning the principles of locus of control
Bryan Caplan: twin studies show nothing parents do matters

Each of these theories took decades to develop. And the theories contradict each other. So it’s clear that knowing the goal of childhood is like knowing the meaning of life: impossible.

Often while my kids were playing basketball, I was stressing about not knowing my parenting philosophy. Now that I see there’s no right answer to what is the goal of childhood, I wish I had watched more basketball and been less distracted by people telling me I shouldn’t let my kids stay home from school and play basketball.

How to do 1st grade - 7th grade in one month

I didn’t teach my kids any curriculum until 7th grade. Here’s how I did it:

Reading
Education insider Lisa Nielsen showed me all sorts of data that says kids of college graduates teach themselves to read. That turned out to be true for our family. Read more